When it opened three years ago, Disneyland Paris seemed as hopelessly out of place as the Burger King on the Champs Elysees.
Not any more. Boosted by its new Space Mountain ride, lower entrance fees and the gradual end to Europe’s deep recession, the sprawling theme park Parisians once scorned as a “cultural Chernobyl” is finally out of the red.
“It’s very American, but we always find American culture very interesting,” said Sophie Rousseau, among the many visitors who thronged the park this week despite the subway terror attack that had nearby Paris on edge.
Former President Francois Mitterrand once sniffed that Disneyland Paris was “not my cup of tea.” The park has nonetheless become the No. 1 tourist draw in France, even among Frenchmen, eclipsing the Louvre and Eiffel Tower.
“My father-in-law hates this place but I think it’s super, just super,” said Rousseau, 32, munching a hot dog with 5-year-old daughter Justina outside Sleeping Beauty’s Castle.
This week, Euro Disney - the company that runs the resort - reported its first quarterly profit since Disneyland Paris opened its doors in April 1992. Jubilant company officials now predict the park might break even before the end of 1995, a full year ahead of schedule.
The turnaround is dramatic for a $4 billion resort that opened just as the European economy slumped. Disneyland Paris skidded into its first winter with five theme hotels half-empty, forcing it to temporarily shutter a sixth.
Rumors of the park’s imminent closure followed and the lines at the gate shrank. Some analysts considered the resort an American misfit doomed to fail.
A year ago, Euro Disney was teetering on the brink of financial ruin with a loss of 546 million francs ($111.4 million). The 170 million franc ($34.6 million) profit announced Tuesday isn’t huge, but it’s a picture of health compared with a year ago when the park was hemorrhaging $1 million a day.
The losses were blamed in large part on lower-than-expected merchandise sales and hotel occupancy. Sales of stuffed Mickey Mouse toys, Donald Duck T-shirts and other Disney paraphernalia remain at a flat 25 percent of total revenue.
But Euro Disney says attendance figures due out in September will show admission up sharply. It credits a 20 percent cut in ticket prices to 195 francs ($40) in April and the debut in June of the high-speed Space Mountain ride.
Hotel occupancy rates, 55 percent the first year, inched up to 60 percent in 1994 after a price cut and have risen “significantly” this year, said company spokesman Philippe Ravanas. Figures won’t be out until September.
“We are a commercial success,” he declared. “It doesn’t mean we have no more problems, but it’s a good sign.”
Euro Disney also credits the resort’s better performance on financial restructuring by its U.S.-based parent, Walt Disney Co. Its two U.S. parks, Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif., and Disneyworld in Orlando, Fla., are raking in record attendance and profits.
About 30 million people, including 12 million French, have visited Disney’s first European park, according to Ravanas. Tour buses from Spain, Germany and Holland line the parking lot.
“People say we didn’t conform to European tastes. What more proof do we need?” Ravanas said.
Suneel Menon, of the United Arab Emirates, has been to Disney’s other parks and prefers the smaller Disneyland Paris.
“The weather could be better,” he said outside Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, wearing a hat with Mickey Mouse ears against the light drizzle. “But we really enjoy this place.”